George meets Georges
72-year-old icon who still likes challenges welcomes one in ‘La Cage aux Folles’
Christopher Sieber, left, and George Hamilton in “La Cage aux Folles.”
PAUL KOLNIK / COURTESY PHOTOS George Hamilton likes a challenge.
And what better challenge can a 72-yearold icon have than as a gay club owner?
George, meet Georges.
That’s his character in the touring production of “La Cage aux Folles,” which plays Feb. 28-March 4 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples.
“For me, I wanted to do something that was challenging and not just a show or an old saw, which I could do,” the actor says by phone from a tour stop in Washington,
Mr. Hamilton began his stage career back in the 1950s and most recently starred as Billy Flynn in “Chicago” a few years ago.
This tour of “La Cage” was launched in October, and after four months on the road, Mr. Hamilton has reached his comfort zone.
“Once you know the person you’re working with, then the pleasure starts to come out. That’s where I am now,” he says. And part of that comfort level comes from his cast mates.
“You’re working with first-rate performers, and Chris Sieber is just great,” he says. Mr. Sieber plays Albin, Mr. Hamilton’s life partner and a man who has an alter ego as Zaza, the star of the Saint- Tropez drag club.
“He’s a powerhouse, and I’m supposed to be the straight man to this flamboyant transvestite entertainer in a club,” he says.
In the show, the two men have raised Georges’ son as their own.
But when the boy returns home with his fiancée, he wants the woman’s very conservative parents to meet his father, sans Albin.
From there, the fun ensues in a show that asks what it means to be a family.
The world of Broadway is a much different place now than it was in 1983, when the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical had its debut.
And it’s even more removed from the theaters of the 1950s, when Mr. Hamilton made his debut.
Technology has changed everything, he says.
“We have microphones. We used to have to project to the back of the room,” he says. “It’s something you have to learn to do differently and let the sound man worry about.”
And that’s a challenge in itself.
“Every time you go back to the theater, you have to accommodate what’s going on in the theater,” he says. “I mean, your drummer could be in the basement and you don’t even see him except over a monitor.”
Speaking of challenges, Mr. Hamilton tore his Achilles tendon before the show began, and his leg has to be wrapped before each performance.
“It’s fairly immobile so I can’t tear the Achilles, and out of 110 I have not missed a performance,” he says matterof factly.
That’s part of his makeup.
“I like to take on stuff a little above my depth. I like to take on something where… you grow in another way,” he says.
Take “Dancing with the Stars.”
“My agent said, ‘You must be out of your mind,’ and I realized I must be out of my mind,” he says.
When a fellow DWTS contestant, wide receiver Jerry Rice, complained during the taping, Mr. Hamilton says he told Mr. Rice to “suck it up.”
“I grew up a professional. I like that work ethic. Each time I do it I do it a little bit better,” he says.
That’s important for a man who can choose his projects.
“I’m at a point in my life where I like to do the things I want to do,” he says. He has worked in film, causing the girls to swoon in “Where the Boys Are” and the boys to do so two decades later in “Zorro: The Gay Blade.” He also starred in “The Godfather III.”
“What is film about? It’s about showing up and doing a job, and the camaraderie,” he says. “Bob Mitchum liked that. Clark Cable said that. They liked to have someplace to show up at 7 in the morning and visit with the crew.”
Then there’s the live stage.
“The theater’s a totally different animal…. Once you’ve got the director’s notes, you go out there and put your performance together,” he says. “That gives you the abilities to work on the nuances of it.”
It’s different from TV reality shows, where “you make a mistake and millions see it.”
“I feel like Seabiscuit. They’ve got me out there — he’s been out there and maybe they’ll use him for breeding stock,” he says.
So he stretches himself as an artist, and people take shots at him.
“It’s sort of the bravery of being an actor,” he says. “You’d better set yourself up for rejection.” But then, he says, “I’ve never seen it as rejection.”
And rejection is certainly not something he’s seen with “La Cage Aux Folles.”
“What I love about this and makes me laugh, my agent said to me, ‘You know you’re playing this gay entrepreneur and there are places where you might get boycotted,’ and I said, ‘Boycotted?’ And as we went on, there were busloads of 80-year-old women with flowers, and one sent me her bloomers,” he laughs.
There is a larger picture to the show, he says.
“I think what rises above this whole thing is that you be true to yourself and to who you love. That’s what comes out of this show. That’s what you come to see. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or not.” ¦
“La Cage aux Folles”
>> Where: The Philharmonic Center for the
>> When: Feb. 28-March 4
>> Tickets: $84 and up
>> Info: 597-1900 or www.thephil.org